Heaven is Under Our Feet

“I took a walk in the woods and

came out taller than the trees.”

~ Henry David Thoreau

 

Tuesday started out grey and wet, but that was fine by me since I had so much work to do. I spent most of Monday evening editing photos from Sunday, but I had a lot of writing to catch up on. I spent most of the day on a couple of pieces, and could have written more, but time was getting away from me.

By mid afternoon, the rain had stopped, and blue patches of sky were fleetingly visible. I felt much better than the day before, sure that fresh air would encourage my recovery. I was determined to hike and decided today was the day to hike Jamaica State Park to the Hamilton Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in Vermont at 125 feet.

I arrived around 3:45 p.m., checked in with the ranger, Teri, and paid my day fee of $4.00. She directed me to parking and how to get to the start of the West River Trail. Running alongside the West River (funnily enough) the trail was once an old railroad bed. As such, it is flat, broad and an easy hike. My plan was to follow a loop up the Overlook Trail, take in the view, then rejoin the West River to the Hamilton Falls path. Teri remarked on my ambition and wished me well.

By now, the afternoon was a mix of sun and clouds, dappled light racing through steep forests and glittering in puddles from the recent rain. I found the Overlook trail easily enough, though this path was a moderate hike, ascending over roots and rocks and mud. (Not as challenging as Haystack, but I was careful.) The smell of the damp forest was intoxicating. There were mushrooms everywhere. At one point, as a came over a small rise, I saw before me a large clearing, carpeted with ferns, glowing green in the light. It reminded me of a chapel, slightly Gothic in shape, created by the phalanx of trees lining three of its four sides.

I continued climbing, reaching the vista after about 20 minutes. I rested, drinking water and eating almonds, enjoying the view. The village of Jamaica was plainly visible; I could see roads I traveled on only a couple of days before. When it was time to move on, I continued in a way I thought was the loop, following trees with very faint blue blazes, completely unlike the deep, bright blue blazes I followed on the way up.

There was a faint trail, but it quickly petered out and after a moment of not quite knowing where I was, I reconnected with the trail I had just used to reach the Overlook. (A boulder that reminded of Morla’s shell in “The Neverending Story” proved to be a useful landmark.) I started down, thinking I must have missed the loop, but turned back to the top, just to make sure. I found a fellow hiker there, and following our conversation I discovered a fork in the trail, one leading back the way I climbed to the West River, and the other heading back to the campground. By missing the campground end of the Overlook trail, I had missed the loop completely.

I descended to the West River trail, grateful for the flat and easy walk. I soon reached the entrance to the Hamilton Falls trail, complete with its warning that over ten lives had been lost there. Duly noted, I began to climb once more, high above and parallel to the Cobb Brook rushing below, on its way to meet the West River. By now, thick clouds had darkened the trail and I was sure more rain was on the way. After climbing for a mile, the path to the falls on the left led down the steep mountainside into a stony glade revealing the spectacular falls themselves.

I shot numerous photos and a few videos, before resting and taking it all in. I kept my eye on my watch the entire time since sunset was only two hours away. When I finally tore myself away, the sun had broken through the clouds once more, suffusing the forest with brilliant golden light. It was heavenly. Once back on the main trail, I debated whether or not to continue hiking to see the top of the falls. I decided to go for it, since I had no idea when I would be back, and I was previously told the trek to the top of the falls was worth it.

I’m glad I did. The top of Hamilton Falls flows through a stretch of pine forest, carpeted with long red needles. I discovered multiple stone cairns stacked along the creekbed. I met a woman from Cape Cod, there with some family and an ancient Weimaraner named “Buffet”. We chatted a bit, but I was soon on my way. It was less than 90 minutes till sunset, and I had over three miles to cover between here and my car.

The mystical light filling the forest only grew more lovely and intense as I made my way back down to the West River. (It was about this time my joints let me know they were ready to conclude this jaunt.) Once I reached the West River, though, I went right instead of left, toward the Cobb Brook Bridge. I wanted to see where the water from Hamilton Falls joins the West River. Another detour that was worth the time.

I walked back two miles along the river, reveling in the natural beauty surrounding me. I felt lucky and blessed and extremely grateful: for this place, for my health, for my ability to recognize such beauty. After four-and-a-half hours and over eight miles, I reached my car, my knees ready for me to sit. Yet I still felt “taller than the trees” and realized how right Thoreau was when he wrote, “Heaven is under our feet, as well as over our heads.”

It’s certainly an apt description for Vermontime.

 

Let it Rain

“The best thing one can do when
it’s raining is to let it rain.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The song says rainy days and Mondays always get me down, but in truth, I like rainy days. A lot. (I haven’t made up my mind on Mondays, yet. Depends on the week, I suppose.)

The first thing I noticed when I woke Monday morning was the sound of rain coming down hard. I’ve kept the windows open my entire time here, listening to the river below. When I first arrived, the rushing water sounded like a gentle rain, but in the weeks since, I’ve learned to discern between the two. The rain pouring from above was unmistakeable.

The second thing I noticed was how cold it was. I learned later the temperature had dropped to the upper 40s overnight. (I don’t think it got above 60 that day.) I was warm and snug in my blankets, but could tell I needed to close the windows. It was when I stood up that I noticed the third thing: how unwell I felt. I won’t bore you with details, but once I shut the windows, I crawled back into bed and fell back to sleep quickly.

Once I woke again, hours later, I knew I needed my coffee or I’d feel worse (stupid, wonderful caffeine addiction). Still feeling unsteady on my feet, I got up and made myself a cup. Then I sat down at the computer to write, but between the rain, the headache, and my fatigue, I was unable to string two thoughts together, let alone a construct of words that made any coherent sense.

I decided in that moment to give myself a gift: a day of rest. I spent my time alternately reading or dozing, and -- despite the chill -- cracking the window so I could listen to the rain from above and the river below. Even in illness, Vermont works its magic. By evening I felt much better, grateful for the gift of “letting it rain” and doing nothing but taking my rest.

Building the Future

Written and photos by: David Michael Kirby

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
~ Albert Einstein

Sunday dawned bright and beautiful. I was up early to head to Manchester for a meeting with the Vermont Production Council, a nascent group partnering with ITVFest, seeking ways to encourage film and television production here in the Green Mountain State. As someone who has attended the last four ITVFests, Philip Gilpin, Jr. invited me to participate.

Having been to and from Manchester a few times already, I trusted my GPS to get me there in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, in the shadow of Stratton Mountain it told me to turn left when I needed to go right. The large, official orange sign across the road should have served as a warning: “Turn around. Your GPS is wrong. Not a through road.” Since I turned left rather than going straight, I paid little heed to the admonition (beyond my own wry amusement). However, once the GPS had me turn right onto a dirt road, then left onto a narrower dirt road, and I found myself in a ski condo community, without an apparent through road, I became concerned. None of this was familiar. I made my way back to the main road, re-mapped my route to Manchester and backtracked to the way I should have gone initially, finding myself back in familiar scenery.

I arrived about ten minutes late, in the midst of introductions. The meeting was held in the beautiful timberframe offices of Stratton Magazine (now Manchester Life). The building overlooks the Mill Pond spillway of the Batten Kill (“kill” means creek in Dutch), wending its way to the Battenkill River. My friends Sonja O’Hara (writer, director, actor producer for “Doomsday,” winner of the Best of ITVFest in 2016) and Jake Krueger, owner and operator of the Jacob Krueger Studio in New York City, were among special guests Philip invited to today’s meeting. While the discussion focused on ITVFest in October, it included brainstorming on how to attract production in Vermont, especially for micro-budget independent creators. I was fascinated to hear steps to ultimately involve the state government in the process. The expertise around the table struck me as important facets that will serve as catalyst for ITVFest and production in Vermont, ensuring both will continue to improve going forward.

Following the meeting, some of us went to the Wilburton Inn, “a majestic hilltop estate, historic inn and vacation homes for families, romantics, artists, foodies and leaders who transform the world,” (to quote the brochure). It’s certainly all that and more. Melissa and Tajlei (sounds like “Tie-lee”) welcomed us to the mansion inn purchased thirty years before by their father. We enjoyed an impromptu brunch on the terrace, surrounded by breathtaking Green Mountain splendor. This is indeed a special place. The conversation revolved on how working together in the future could benefit ITVFest, Jacob Krueger Writing Retreats, and the Inn. As a filming location, the appeal of the Wilburton setting is undeniable. I spent much of my time taking pictures, even shooting a couple of time lapse videos. I remained behind after everyone else left, feeling very much at home in this gracious place.

It was midafternoon when I returned to Manchester. I took advantage of the WiFi in the ITVFest offices, posting a few pictures on social media, when I realized I was famished. I walked up the street to Cilantro for a late lunch. This is a place known for its fresh farm-to-table, locally sourced ingredients, as well as its thrifty prices. I ordered a two taco meal, with rice and beans, and can confirm it was fresh, delicious and filling. I washed it down with the tart and tasty house limeade. I enjoyed it so much, I’ll likely visit the Bennington branch later this week.

By the time I finished lunch, it was raining lightly. I window-shopped on my way back to the car, haphazardly ducking raindrops. Not knowing what the rain would mean for the afternoon farm concert Tajlei and Melissa had invited me to earlier, and feeling rather sticky and -- well -- a little gross, I elected to return home by way of my secret swimming hole. It was the therapy I needed. I had the place to myself, swimming for about half an hour (the water colder today than my previous visits). I also experimented with time exposure shots of the falls.

After this blissful Vermontime, I headed back to the apartment, refreshed, but exhausted and hungry. I made myself dinner, settling in to edit photos and watch “Game of Thrones”.

I felt very much at home.

Stories to Tell

Written and photos by: David Michael Kirby

If a story is in you,
it has got to come out.
~ William Faulkner

Writing is not easy, most of the time. Nor is it particularly fun, at least not in a traditional sense. In all honesty, writing can be a masochistic exercise. So why do it? Because in my experience there is a satisfaction derived in crafting story, unlike any other feeling I know.

I love language and the musicality of words. I am a musician, classically trained in piano and voice, and to my ear, a story well told is as solidly structured and harmonically pleasing as a Bach chorale.

But it ain’t easy.

With these posts for Vermontime, I share my day to day living in Vermont. There wasn’t much adventuring this Saturday because I didn’t finish writing until after six o’clock in the evening. (That’s another thing about writing -- time disappears.) But I am writing in Vermont, and that -- well, that’s special, and something worth talking about.

When I write at my desk in downtown Newark, New Jersey, I put on headphones, playing music to shut out the atonal urban symphony of sirens, trains, traffic, and voices on the street. Here? My windows are open, and the melody of the Deerfield River fills the apartment. I still play music, but it’s part of the fuller environment, not a guard against it.

I spent most of Saturday struggling with language and memory, wrestling to alchemically transform my experience in Weston into an assembly of words that would make sense to my reader. When writing, I sit at my laptop and write, read, delete, rewrite, reread, add, delete, rewrite, reread, and on and on until my gut tells me I’m done.

Once I finished, I ran out to the market for groceries, claiming my free cup of coffee at 7-11 along the way. I decided to take a scenic route, and I’ve been told since I got here that Cooper Hill is the best place to capture a sunrise. I had yet to see it and thought it was time for a scouting trip, in hopes of seeing dawn at least once before my Vermontime is up.

Cooper Hill is unmistakeable, a broad meadow sloping down gently to the forest edge. Above the tops of distant trees is a sweeping vista looking east, including New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock. It was a rather sullen evening: overcast, warm and muggy, with hordes of black flies everywhere. (In the dozen-plus photos I took, buzzy, blurry black flecks are in all but one, like irritating UFOs.) A group of Green Mountain Adventure Challengers were climbing the hill, laughing, chatting and posing for photographs against the view while I snapped my shots.

I might have stayed longer, but the persistent insects chased me to my car. Traveling roads I had not yet seen, I arrived at the market a back way. Picking up what I needed (and then some) I returned home for a quiet evening in. After all, I had to be up early the next day for the Vermont Production Council meeting in Manchester.

But that’s another story. Another day.

It will come out. I promise. It’s got to.